Sunday, September 17, 2017

And Now as to the Villains

Quick sidenote before we get started:  I was interviewed by one of my favorite Sherlockians, Leah Guinn, on The Well Read Sherlockian last week about The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street.  You can read the interview on her site, here.

I missed last week's deadline due to the fact that I also needed to put up a blog post recapping The Parallel Case of St. Louis's August meeting.  Seems how each blog post takes me an hour to an hour and a half to do, and that my family wants to spend time with me for some reason, it just wasn't in the cards to get two posts up last week.

I've spoken about my love for my local scion here, but man I love those meetings!  We talk about current events in the Sherlockian world, and then we get right down to the story.  You would think with these stories being over 100 years old, they wouldn't evoke such debate, but here we are, still reading the Baker Street Journal, attending conferences and meetings, and posting our thoughts on blogs and social media.

A conversation I've been having with other Sherlockians quite a bit lately is on the topic of villains.  The Occupants of the Empty House in southern Illinois just had a special meeting to debate who the worst villain of the canon was, and if I had been there after reading "The Noble Bachelor" like I did for the Parallel Case meeting this month, I might have argued for Hatty Doran to be on that list.

Because Hatty Doran sucks.

Sure, she's not Professor Moriarty or Grimsby Roylott, but she's a vile person.  Here's a quick review of the story:  Robert St. Simon is getting married to Hatty Doran.  She drops her bouquet at the wedding, some dude in the audience hands it to her, and St. Simon and Doran get married.  The new couple go to the wedding breakfast, St. Simon's ex-girlfriend shows up and makes a scene, and Hatty disappears.  Holmes finds her and her REAL husband (spoilers) and everything is resolved at a dinner at Baker Street.

Obviously, there's more to the story.  And I would strongly recommend you reread the Conan Doyle original, because he writes a great tale here without the reader ever leaving the confines of Baker Street.  But what I want to focus on here is the real villain, Hatty.

Over the course of this story, Hatty Doran is presented with many choices and she always chooses the one that's easiest for her and causes pain to others.  Her father says she can't marry Frank Moulton when she's a young woman.  Instead of trying to talk to her father or have Frank meet with him, she sneaks off and does it anyway.

Then her new husband goes off and she learns that he PROBABLY died in an Apache attack.  Well, since she never told her dad that she's married, he introduces her to an English nobleman on vacation in San Francisco.  After a courtship, Hattie and dad head off to England for for her to be married to the nobleman.  And the only proof that she has that her husband is dead is a newspaper article.

Has this woman never heard of fake news?
Maybe these slights against her father and husband can be swept under the rug due to the power fathers had over their daughters and the lack of fact checking in the press during this time.  But then comes her wedding day.  Hatty sees Frank among the crowd before her wedding starts.  Here is where all sympathy I could have for her goes out the window.  She sees her husband (who is NOT DEAD) in the church and she goes through with a fraudulent marriage anyway.

Seriously, let that sink in.  That's crap.  And then she runs away!  Here is a direct quote from Hatty: "I know I ought to have spoken to Lord St. Simon, but it was dreadful hard before his mother and all those great people. I just made up my mind to run away and explain afterwards."  But she didn't explain!  She let St. Simon's ex-girlfriend take the wrap for murdering her and when Frank tells her they should let St. Simon know that she ran off with her rightful husband, she says no thanks.

And THAT is why I think Hatty Doran should be on a list of worst villains in the canon!  At no point in this story does she make a choice that is for the good of others, only what's convenient for her.  The Baker Street Babes had a series of articles that ran for a while called Femme Friday, where they covered kick ass Sherlockian female characters from all versions of the canon.  You know who's not on that list?  Hatty Doran.

“It can’t be a coincidence,” [Sherlock Holmes] cried, at last springing from his chair and pacing wildly up and down the room.

No, Mister Holmes, I don't think it is.   A truly villainous woman indeed.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

I Would Call Your Attention Very Particularly to Two Points.

This week's post is a twofer.  After two big weeks, my book release and the Nerve and Knowledge event, life has gotten back to normal as a Sherlockian.  I wanted to highlight two smaller, but still significant events in my life as a Sherlockian this week.

First up, is the current book I'm reading, From Holmes to Sherlock by Mattias Bostrom.  Now, if you're reading this blog, you probably follow some Sherlockian news, so you've probably heard of this book, if you don't already own it yourself.

That's because this book is important.

I am about a half of the way through it,  but can already see how this book will become a new cornerstone of Sherlockian research.  I would imagine people who read William Baring-Gould's Annotated Sherlock Holmes felt the same way when it came out.  What Mattias Bostrom has done in his new book is absolutely phenomenal.  He has taken years of research and stories and combined them into a single volume, adding a lot of information that was new to me along the way.

This book covers everything from Arthur Conan Doyle's life all the way up to the BBC Sherlock and everything in between.  Like I said, I'm about halfway through, and Conan Doyle has died by this point (sorry if that's a spoiler), and Bostrom is taking the reader through the formation of the Baker Street Irregulars, Sherlock Holmes' beginnings in radio, and the Conan Doyle family events at the time.  This isn't just a Conan Doyle biography or a retrospective of Holmes in entertainment or a history of us fans of the Great Detective.  It's all that and more.  Every Sherlockian should own this book.


On a different note, I spent Saturday travelling across the Mississippi River from my home in Illinois to visit a handful of St. Louis bookstores in hopes of getting them to carry The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street.  Time will tell if my sojourn will pay off financially, but it totally paid off in a different way.

One of the bookstores I visited was The Book House.  Now, I usually only shop at my local independent, Afterwords Books in Edwardsville (It's great, you should totally check it out!), but The Book House is a great used bookstore.  Sliding ladders, stacks of books in front of shelves of books, and a whole section dedicated to just Sherlock Holmes!  I was treated to discussions with two employees there, one of whom was reading A Study in Scarlet for the first time.  I felt obliged to warn him about the jarring sensation he'll feel when he gets to the Mormon part.

So often in life we tread the same path, no matter how good of a path it might be.  While Afterwords will always be MY bookstore, The Book House has earned itself the designation of a store worth visiting, also.  If I hadn't made it a point to search out different bookstores, I never would've known about this delightful place.  It makes me wonder, as Sherlockians, what are we missing out there because we want to keep treading the same path?

Monday, August 28, 2017

Nerve and Knowledge

This weekend, I attended my first Baker Street Irregulars event, Nerve and Knowledge II: Doctors, Medicine and the Sherlockian Canon, hosted by the Illustrious Clients of Indianapolis.

As of Thursday night, I didn't have anyone to go with, and I was weighing the options of going to my first major Sherlockian event by myself, or skipping the thing entirely.  I was able to convince Joe Eckrich, founder of The Parallel Case of St. Louis, to go with me and I am so glad that we made the trip to Indiana on Saturday.

Being the book nerds that we are, we left my house in Edwardsville, IL early enough to allow us time to visit Black Dog Books in Zionsville, IN.  Let me tell you, if you are anywhere in the Indianapolis area, this is a bookstore you want to check out.  There is a shelf just for Sherlock Holmes books.  And we're not talking just pastiches.  If I could have afforded it, I would've walked out of there with an armful of Sherlockian scholarship.  But I live on a budget and my wife is quick to point that out when it comes to books.

Being somewhat deficient in planning skills, Joe and I didn't account for the time change between Illinois and Indiana, and ended up being late to dinner.  Whoops!  Bill Mason, a thoroughly delightful Tennessee Sherlockian visited with us for a while, but it was looking like Joe and I were going to be hanging out in a booth by ourselves.  But we weren't the only ones to be relegated to outside the main crowd.  Luckily, Court Brown of Art in the Blood also showed up after the main seating area had been filled and we got to share dinner with her.  This was my first interaction with someone at the event that involved the phrase, "I know you from Twitter!"  And happily, it wouldn't be the last.

After dinner, the entire group headed to the Indiana Medical History Museum for the night's program.  The Medical History Museum is part of the old Central State Hospital, built in 1895.  Stepping inside the building is like stepping back in time.  The program took place in the teaching amphitheater where autopsies were performed.  And other rooms in the building hold a variety of medical instruments and specimens from that time.  Including lots of samples of brains (My daughter was not impressed with this picture when I showed it to her the next day).

But the main event were the night's speakers.  The 70 or so members of the audience were treated to two great talks by Sherlockian medicos.  Carlina de la Cova spoke first about the use of anthropology in the canon.  She took us through the history of anthropology and phrenology in criminal work and why some people would be considered a hereditary criminal just by the shape of their skull (including Christopher Eccleston).  Her talk was titled "I Covet Your Skull," and for anyone familiar with The Hound of the Baskervilles, that line immediately strikes a familiar tone.  After writing my own novel about criminals, her attention to the description of Moriarty's heredity features and skull were especially interesting.

After a brief intermission where I was able to buy another book, this time a copy of Out of the Abyss from the BSI Press, it was time for that book's editor to speak.  Bob Katz gave an entertaining talk on Holmes' own knowledge of medical studies throughout the stories.  By highlighting the philosophy that it's not what's said but what is NOT said in the stories, he highlighted a instances from The Creeping Man, The Solitary Cyclist, The Lion's Mane, and The Blanched Soldier.  Using these inferences throughout Holmes' career, Bob argued that Holmes had studied medicine while at university.  Not only did Bob have to convince a room of Sherlockians that he could prove Holmes' collegiate studies, he also had to do so as the room darkened as night fell and only one overhead light worked!

The program wrapped up, and the crowd milled around and started to disperse.  I admit, I didn't want the night to end!  I had gone to Indianapolis to meet new Sherlockians and the night was young.  So when Steve Doyle suggested we head to a local restaurant to keep the night going, I was ecstatic.  A nice crowd of Sherlockians headed out including myself, Joe Eckrich, Leah and Brett Guinn, Bob Katz, Court Brown, Steve Doyle, Carlina de la Cova, and Mike and Mary Ann Whelan.  Of course we covered Sherlockian topics (like an upcoming BSI Manuscript that sounds phenomenal), but talk around the table covered all kinds of topics ranging from medical school stories to basketball arenas and social media.

At one point, I took a copy of The Criminal Mastermind of Baker Street down to Steve, the publisher of The Baker Street Journal.  The next thing I know, Mike Whelan has pulled up a chair and the three of us are discussing the importance of Moriarty in the Holmes canon and why he is such a prominent character outside of the canon.

Less than 48 hours before this conversation, I was considering not going to the event.  I decided to go and ended up swapping canonical theories with the editor of the BSJ and the head of the BSI.  How could I have been thinking about not going to this event?  That was an insane thought!

In the end, the night wrapped up and everyone went the separate ways.  But travelling to meet with other Sherlockians was something I'm very glad that I did.  The Illustrious Clients and the BSI put on a great program, but the real highlight of the event was all of the people in attendance.  Sherlockians really are the best people.

Monday, August 21, 2017

Book Release

Once everyone is done viewing today's solar eclipse, there's another important phenomenon happening:


As of today, my book is available at the MX Publishing website!  If you would prefer to buy from a local independent bookstore, MX Publishing has also made it available to independents before its wide release through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

I've gone into more detail of the book in a previous post, so I won't rehash that here.  But take a minute to check out the MX site and if the book sounds interesting to you, give it a shot.

Monday, August 14, 2017

I Tried to Puzzle it Out

August 2nd.  That's when the black hole was formed.

Not a Stephen Hawking/Neil DeGrasse Tyson type of black hole.  No, we are dealing with a productivity black hole.  That's the day that I learned of Think Geek's new Sherlock Holmes puzzle.  I showed it to my wife, she innocently said I should get it and I ordered it.  The die was cast.  A week later, it arrived in the mail and I haven't been productive since then.

School starts in a week, I'm trying to be a productive member of my team participating in the John H. Watson Society Treasure Hunt, I'm in the middle of a good book, and I'd like to keep up with the rest of the world.  But the puzzle calls to me.

Doing puzzles has always been something my daughter and I have done together, but the biggest one we've ever attempted was 100 pieces and was Disney princesses.  So when she asked if she could help me with the 1,000 piece Sherlock Holmes puzzle, I gladly accepted her offer.  (I think she put about 4 pieces in total, but she sure did try)

My wife noticed that she was all alone in the living room.  And she was sucked in as well.  Over the course of four days, if we were home, there was some combination of the three of us hunched over the dining room table working on it.

And this thing is big!  I had hoped to use a board game as a kind of mat and move it off the table so we could eat.  It's too big.  I brought up a big wooden platform from the basement to use.  It was still too big.  So I used both.  That worked for a day and half until I finally gave up and claimed the dining room table as my own.

We didn't eat dinner in our dining room for three days because of this puzzle.

Here is where you would think I'd start complaining about how much space it took up, how it upset our family routines, or kept me from other things I should have been doing, but no.  I loved every piece of this puzzle.  It was a fun challenge as a Sherlockian, was the first Sherlockian thing my wife ever did with me (she still hasn't read my book! ahem...), and prompted some fun conversations with my daughter, at one point she decided she would "help" put the puzzle together by looking at the pieces with a magnifying glass.

You don't have to have a strong knowledge of the canon to do this puzzle, but it sure makes it more interesting.  Quotes from the stories, biographies of Doyle and his characters, pictures, and a list of every case along with its guilty party make up the collage.  When my daughter asked, "Who is Frances?" I immediately knew it should go between "Lady" and "Carfax."  I saved the list of cases to do by myself at the end because I wanted to do it without looking at the cover on the box and use my knowledge to put it together.  I realized I know the order of The Adventures really well, and things get hazy after that.

But the absolute best part of this puzzle was once it was done.  Not getting my dining room table or leisure time back, but my daughter wanted me to read the puzzle to her.  She now knows that Sherlock's best friend was Dr. Watson, and Dr. Watson got married to a client.  She also knows what the word "client" means.  She knows that Holmes used science and has a brother named Mycroft.  And she wanted me to read the list of cases to her, stopping me to hear about ones that sounded interesting or ones she's already familiar with.

What started out as a mere intellectual puzzle, grew into something to while away the time, and ended up as what will remain a great memory of the occasion.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Sherlockian Imprinting

We've all heard the stories of animal imprinting where a baby duck or some other animal mistakes a different species for its mother and then follows it around, learning from the surrogate.  And it's so CUTE!

And does this have anything to do with Sherlock Holmes, or am I just shamelessly putting up cute animal pictures to attract readers to my blog?  Honestly?  Both.

I've yet to meet another Sherlockian that doesn't have adaptations outside of the canon that they love.  I have a theory that imprinting plays a big part in our Sherlockian identities.  Quick, what is your favorite adaption?  My theory is that that adaptation is one of the first adaptations of the canon you ever saw.  Two personal examples:

My love for The Great Mouse Detective runs deep.  I enjoyed that movie before I even knew who Sherlock Holmes was and continued to love it even after I became a Sherlockian.  Going back and rewatching Basil vs. Ratigan once I was able to pick up on the canonical nods just strengthened my positive feelings towards the film.  There were other Disney movies from that time period that I also enjoyed, but having something from my childhood tie into my adult interests undoubtedly reinforced the feelings I have towards the movie.

For you psychology majors out there, I know that's more reinforcement than psychology, but cut me some slack.

I got into Sherlock Holmes around 2003 or 2004.  I plowed through the canon, the apocrypha and then dove into pastiches.  For whatever reason, I didn't ever seek out movie or TV adaptations until I saw that the guy from Iron Man was playing Sherlock Holmes.  "Sure," I thought, "I'll check it out."  This was the first film adaptation that I saw once I became a Sherlockian.

Many Sherlockians don't like Downey's portrayal of Holmes.  I can see where they're coming from.  The original film is a completely new story, Holmes and Irene Adler are nothing like they are in the canon, and the movie is more action over deduction.  But you know what?  I love that movie.  It's so much fun!  If anyone were to ask me what the best adaptation is, I'd quickly answer Jeremy Brett's Granada series.  So good!  But my favorite?  The Great Mouse Detective and Robert Downey Jr.'s Sherlock Holmes.

So why does Downey's film strike such a chord with me?  My unlicensed self-analysis is because of imprinting.  It was one of the first adaptations I saw.  I don't think imprinting is a catch-all.  If I had seen Matt Frewer's version first, it's a pretty safe guess that he wouldn't have been my favorite.

But the versions that are worth watching (Brett, Downey, Cumberbatch, Miller, Lee, Plummer, Rathbone, Cushing, etc.), if you saw one of those first, my hypothesis is that it rates very high, if not at the top, on your list of adaptations.  Maybe I'm wrong, but even the Great Detective made his hypotheses without much knowledge sometimes.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

July Book Giveaway & Appreciating Adaptations

Hoo boy, Elinor Gray sure can stir up a conversation!  Maybe that's why she's the new editor-in-chief of the John H. Watson Society Journal.  But that's not this week's topic.  No, Ms. Gray tweeted a simple quote she heard at a local Sherlockian meeting.

And that led to a Twitter conversation between Elinor, myself and Chris Redmond.  (For some reason, Chris is always present when I get into a rambling Sherlockian conversation on Twitter.)  Before I get onto my main point, a few thoughts:

1.  "youths"?  Really?  Probably not going to reach your target demographic talking like that.
2.  Can we please be done with the purposefully mispronunciation of "Cumberbatch"?  It's about as funny as plays on Keep Calm and Carry On or minions memes.
3.  I've discussed my personal methods for introducing young people to Sherlock Holmes in other blogs, and in two upcoming book anthologies, so I won't beleaguer the point here.  But I think it can be done with some specific thought.
4.  And why the specific focus on young people?  Shouldn't we as Sherlockians be welcoming anyone who wants to discuss Holmes?

Elinor, Chris and I discussed the dismissive attitude some Sherlockians have towards fans of certain adaptations.  That's not cool.  On one hand, you're saying you want new people to join you in your interest, and immediately make them feel less-than by blowing off their form of interest in the topic.  

Jeremy Brett is my favorite Holmes adaptation.  But man, do I enjoy those Robert Downey Jr. films.  The first two seasons of BBC Sherlock are some of the best TV I've ever seen.  Who is the "right" Sherlock Holmes?  Depends on who you ask.  But for my money, it's this guy:

For me, it all starts with the canon.  I know there are plenty of BBC Sherlock and Elementary fans who've never read the canon, and that's cool.  But if you're at a Sherlockian discussion, you might want to have a familiarity with Arthur Conan Doyle's stories.  Chris made the astute observation, "Don't go to the philatelic society and insist on talking about beer bottle caps."  After I looked up what philatelic meant, I agree.

But most of us don't stop after those 60 stories.  There is a world of TV shows, movies, fan fiction and pastiche out there for us.  (Including some of the books I'm giving away this week!  See what I did there?)  Don't dismiss others because of what they enjoy.  For me, Elementary strays too far from the canon to interest me.  And you know what, so do the Basil Rathbone films.  Right now, there are established Sherlockians gasping at that.  But, come on, Sherlock Holmes fighting Nazis isn't very canonical.  But is my opinion of Basil Rathbone or Johnny Lee Miller's versions of Sherlock Holmes more important than other peoples'?  


So why are people so quick to dismiss other Sherlockians because of their preferences?  Some people like Jeremy Brett.  Some people like Johnlock.  As long as they are interested in the canon, we still have a similar starting point.  I'm pretty sure lots of older Sherlockians dismissed the Jeremy Brett fans when the PBS series came out in the 80's, and here we are with an older generation of Sherlockians dismissing Cumberbatch fans 30 years later.  It almost makes our group look like the Scotland Yard detectives that so often dismissed Holmes' new methods only to be proven wrong time and time again by his innovative ways of looking at things.

*     *     *     *     *

And now, on to this month's book giveaways!

Up for giveaway this month are books that cover different aspects of the Sherlockian world.  Hopefully we can all appreciate the different avenues.  

For the traditional route, there is a copy of the "Greenwich Unabridged Library Classics Sherlock Holmes" which contains the Adventures, Memoirs and Return of Sherlock Holmes as well as The Hound of the Baskervilles.
For the pastiche fan, I have a copy of "Sherlock Holmes and the Sacred Sword" by Frank Thomas.
And for those of you who are looking for mysteries in Victorian London that venture a little past Sherlock Holmes' involvement, there is a copy of "Brigade: Further Adventures of Inspector Lestrade" by M.J. Trow.

The rules are simple: if you are interested in one of this month's giveaways, be the first to claim it in the comments below and give me your email address in the comment.  I will contact you to set up shipping.  I only ask that you pay the few dollars for shipping the book to you, and it's all yours.  Enjoy!